Authentic Hand-cut Dovetails
The drawers are constructed with through dovetails at the back and half-blind dovetails at the front. Hand-cut dovetails shouldn’t mimic machine-cut dovetails. So, I cut these and all the other dovetails on the case not only by hand but also freehand. That is, I sawed them out without the aid of an angle jig or an angled reference line because, in an era in which handwork is becoming increasingly scarce, I want my joinery to be verifiably the result of the human hand.
Finally, the drawer dovetails — like the drawer dovetails on most of my recent casework — are laid out so that the tails get narrower as they ascend the side of a drawer. In fact, those tails at the bottom of a wide drawer side might be twice as wide as those at the top. Applied consistently, this approach adds a unifying element, not only to the drawers in a single case piece but also to all drawers made by my hand.
Starting with the Big Box
After gluing up and leveling the four panels that comprise the upper case shell, I cut through rabbets on the inside back edge of the top, bottom, and two sides. (Through rabbets were acceptable because the waist and cornice moldings would later conceal the ends of those rabbets.) I next cut and carefully fit the long rows of dovetails at the corners and glued up the case, pressing each dovetail home with a pipe clamp I moved back and forth across the joinery. After the dovetails were fully seated, I checked diagonals to verify that the case was square, and then I set it aside to cure.
After planing the surplus length from the ends of the upper case’s pins and tails, I prepped the drawer rails. First, I plowed grooves on the back side of each rail — grooves which would later accept a tongue on the ends of the drawer runners. I then cut dovetails on the ends of each rail. Finally, I marked and cut the dovetail sockets in the front edges of the case sides to receive each of the dovetails and glued the rails in place.
The drawer runners went in next. I installed them by sliding the tongue on the end of each into its groove on the back side of the drawer rail, fastening the back end of the runner to the case side with a single heavy screw. In the case of the two top drawers, I assembled the drawer runner/kicker strip unit before attaching the whole thing in place with two screws driven up into the top of the upper case, through the kicker strips. Additionally, tenons fit into the backs of the two uppermost drawer rails. When all those members were installed, I went ahead and fit the back.